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Paterno lauded by friends, family at memorial service on Penn State campus

| Friday, Jan. 27, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK — A cold rain pelted the Penn State campus Thursday afternoon, but the approximately 12,000 celebrating the life of Joe Paterno inside the Bryce Jordan Center basked in sunny memories and warm sentiment.

"The most extraordinary person I've ever known," Todd Blackledge, quarterback of the Nittany Lions' 1982 national championship team, said at the memorial service for his former coach, who died Sunday of lung cancer at age 85.

Blackledge was one of six players picked by Paterno's family to represent each decade of his 46-year career as head coach. The crowd included several hundred current and former players, including Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, a former Penn State All-American guard. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, once a rumored candidate to replace Paterno, also attended.

Paterno's widow, Sue, entered to a standing ovation that lasted three minutes and sat between her daughter, Mary Kay, and son, David, joined by her three other children and 17 grandchildren.

Former quarterback Michael Robinson, now with the Seattle Seahawks and selected to the Pro Bowl as a fullback alternate, left practice in Hawaii and arrived only hours before the ceremony.

The 2 1/2-hour program, which included video clips of Paterno's career, produced a torrent of laughter, tears, love and respect. There were funny stories, heartfelt emotions and a repeated message: Despite his considerable accomplishments on the field, Paterno's work off it was more important.

"Joe built something fine and good and long-lasting," former running back Charlie Pittman said.

Reference to the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky, which led to Paterno's firing by the board of trustees on Nov. 9, was bypassed for the first hour or so, until Nike chairman Phil Knight proclaimed that Paterno was "excoriated in the media" and "fired by his university."

Knight, whose company outfits Penn State, more than once called Paterno his hero and later said, "If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in the investigation, not in Joe Paterno."

The crowd leaped to its feet and produced a thunderous roar. The same reaction occurred when Knight rhetorically asked, "Who is the real trustee at Penn State University?"

Cited often were Paterno's dogged commitment to academics and he and Sue's vast philanthropic contributions. Paterno's "Grand Experiment," which proved that academics and athletics could co-exist, was a major talking point.

"I think we can say 46 years later that the 'Grand Experiment' was a grand success," former receiver Jimmy Cefalo said.

Susan Welch, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and student Lauren Perrotti, a member of the initial Paterno Fellows Program, lauded Paterno for his work in academia. Former center Christian Marrone revealed how Paterno refused to let him leave school after an injury cut short his football career.

Marrone, who went on to earn a master's and law degree and worked for then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, said Paterno told him, "You have a greater purpose than football, and I'm gonna help you achieve it."

Paterno's son, Jay, a former Penn State coach, in his eulogy wistfully recounted growing up with his dad and sharing their final moments together.

"What I'm proudest of," he said, "is when you look at my driver's license it says, 'Joseph Vincent Paterno Jr. ' "

Photo Galleries

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno has died at age 85.

Funeral service for legendary football coach for Joe Paterno

Funeral service for legendary football coach for Joe Paterno

Thousands of people lined the streets to watch the funeral procession of legendary football coach Joe Paterno as his remains made their way to Paterno's private burial, which followed the 2nd public viewing and private funeral at the Pasquerilla Spi

Thousands gather to pay their respects to Joe Paterno at public viewing.

Thousands gather to pay their respects to Joe Paterno at public viewing.

Current and former Penn State football players and thousands of members of the public today paid tribute to Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions' coach for nearly all of the last 46 years who died Sunday at the age of 85.

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